Home Manhattan A look inside South Ferry, three months later

A look inside South Ferry, three months later

by Benjamin Kabak

Dirt, debris and the odor of water damage fill the new South Ferry Terminal. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

A few years ago, on a winter afternoon, I ventured into the 1 train’s new South Ferry terminal for a pre-opening media tour. This station — part of the post-9/11 Lower Manhattan recovery effort — was to be a crown jewel for the subway system. It connected the 1 with the R, allowed Transit to run 24 trains per hour on the West Side IRT and brought a climate-controlled ADA-compliant station to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.

Superstorm Sandy, apparently, had other plans in mind. The storm surge from Sandy overwhelmed the barriers placed in front of the station, and the 1 train’s section of South Ferry flooded up to the mezzanine level. We’ve seen the dramatic photos and the videos from the days following the storm, and we know that the 1 train is terminated at Rector St. and using the decommissioned South Ferry loop station to turn around. We don’t know how long this makeshift set-up will last, but based upon what I saw today on another media tour, it’s going to be a long time.

Even after a thorough cleaning that had switch relays looking brand new, corrosion from saltwater exposure creeps back in. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Led by Wynton Habersham, a 30-year vet of the MTA, I saw a station in ruins. Tiles have fallen from the ceiling and walls, debris is everywhere and the electronics — the hidden aspect of the station — are completely wrecked. “It’s like throwing a computer into seawater,” Habersham said of the rampant destruction. The station filled up with 80 feet of water, and crews eventually pumped out 14.5 million gallons of damaging brackish saltwater.

While the station looks bad, the cosmetic impact is nothing compared to the destruction to key signal systems and train control infrastructure. All of the equipment inside the signal relay room will have to be replaced, and in fact, the entire signal system south of Rector St. will likely have to be completely overhauled as well. Vital infrastructure — the very systems that keep trains from colliding with each other and on the right tracks — is useless, corroded from saltwater exposure.

The system’s newest station will remain closed for a considerable amount of time. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

The bad news for many Lower Manhattan residents, commuters and Staten Island ferry riders concerns the timing. Habersham estimated that it would take a least a year to replace all of the electronic equipment that was destroyed by the storm. That’s 14,000 daily riders looking for an alternate route for a rather lengthy amount of time. Beyond that vague estimate, the MTA will have to assess if the best solution is simply to gut the station and rebuild it. It’s unclear how much saltwater seeped in behind the walls and how quickly it will corrode the structure. I had never been seen rust on a subway staircase, and the rails were covered in it as well.

So if all goes according to plan, perhaps we’ll see South Ferry reactivated in 2014. But the MTA has to decide how to repair the station and what hardening takes place. As it stands now, it is a monument to the destructive powers of nature and saltwater. A photo slideshow follows after the jump.

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Jerrold January 17, 2013 - 5:48 pm

“Beyond that, the MTA will have to assess if the best solution is simply to gut the station and rebuild it.”

THAT statement implies that the actual work has not even STARTED yet.
I wonder how much time will pass before the MTA decides exactly what to do, and then starts doing it.

Miles Bader January 17, 2013 - 5:54 pm

Well they gotta finish their lunch break first… ><

Someone January 17, 2013 - 7:18 pm

THAT statement implies that the actual work has not even STARTED yet.

We don’t know for sure whether the station will ever reopen, if that’s the case…

Jerrold January 17, 2013 - 7:52 pm

I don’t think the MTA is crazy enough to decide to just forget about that station.

Wouldn’t you agree?

Someone January 17, 2013 - 9:29 pm

The MTA is pretty crazy. You never know what they’d do next.

Yep January 17, 2013 - 11:43 pm

I know. They will keep stack money to keep the ratio 1 working / 10 watching.

The Cobalt Devil January 18, 2013 - 12:41 am

When the Whitehall Ferry Terminal upstairs burned down in 1991, it took 11 years before a fully operational new Staten Island Ferry terminal was opened. This doesn’t bode well for the South Ferry station. Glad I moved off Staten Island when I did (pre-Sandy).

The Cobalt Devil January 18, 2013 - 12:43 am

Sorry, it actually took 14 years.

Thalia January 22, 2013 - 9:45 pm

Whitehall Terminal did not burn down, while no longer in use,it is still standing at the foot of Whitehall Street. The current South Ferry Terminal,at the foot of State Street,replaced the old Whitehall Terminal in the 1950’s. It os this terminal that was badly damaged by fire in 1991 before eventually being reconstructed.
The Saint George Terminal burned to the ground in 1949.

Bolwerk January 17, 2013 - 7:43 pm

In all fairness, I’m sure the MTA has plenty to do in the mean time. And they aren’t losing a lot of revenue because of it, I would guess.

Jerrold January 19, 2013 - 8:05 pm

The MTA is there to provide transit service, NOT to be a cash cow.

Matthias January 18, 2013 - 10:38 am

There is a lot of assessment and strategic planning to do. If you’re spending $600 million, it doesn’t make sense to go forward blindly if this will just happen again the next time around.

Bolwerk January 17, 2013 - 7:29 pm

Maybe Sheldon Silver’s dream of a downtown-first SAS should be reconsidered now. It could at least allow a transfer from the T to the M and F at Essex somehow, with a non-revenue connection to SOMETHING for storage and maintenance.

No, wait, that will take decades and cost billions, because cut and cover construction is a no-no. Nevermind!

Someone January 17, 2013 - 7:32 pm

6 months later…
The station is temporarily closed. Sorry for the inconvenience.

A year later…
The station is temporarily closed. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Two years later…
The station is temporarily closed. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Five years later… You guys get the point, don’t you?

capt subway January 17, 2013 - 8:02 pm

Abandon this boondoggle for chrissake and reopen the old loop station. (The trains are looping there as we speak.) The loop terminal worked just fine for the first 100 years. I know. I was there for 37 of ’em, actively employed with the NYCTA, including a couple of years as a Motorman on the #1 line.

Berk32 January 17, 2013 - 8:30 pm

operating the loop as a stop would slow down service on the line. that was the whole point of eliminating it in the first place.

The combo of Rector and Wall St stations do the job for the most part. The BIG problem is South Ferry was the only 1-2-3 ADA compliant station in the area…. until Fulton St is finished.

Someone January 17, 2013 - 9:23 pm

The stations Chambers Street (1,2,3); World Trade Centre (E platform); Cortlandt St (N,R); Bowling Green (4,5); and Fulton Place (2,3,4,5 platforms) are all within a walking distance and are also ADA compliant.

Berk32 January 17, 2013 - 11:23 pm


walking distance? Chambers? really? its at least 20 minutes!

Fulton isnt done yet – and and i’m purposefully talking only about 1-2-3 trains for the purposes of ADA complaint stations – you want to tell someone in a wheelchair chambers is close enough?

Someone January 18, 2013 - 8:00 am

The Fulton transfer from the 2/3 to the 4/5 is wheelchair-accessible. That means that somebody can transfer at Chambers Street for a 2/3 train, then transfer to the 4/5 at Fulton St. They could get off at Bowling Green which is walking distance.

Berk32 January 19, 2013 - 9:33 pm

This is an ideal solution to you?

Back to my original point – opening the SF loop does nothing to improve service.

capt subway January 18, 2013 - 12:16 am

Not so. In fact an analysis we did in the Schedule Dept showed that a dead end terminal stop, with trains creeping in up to a bumping block, would slow down service. This was a fact and is a fact. When we did the new timetables for the new terminal (I personally wrote the first timetables), 2 additional trains and 2 additional crews were needed to run the exact same service, with exactly the same running time between SF & VC. The additional time, crews & trains were needed for the layover time in the new terminal. I always thought the whole point of this type of improvement was to – maybe – save on crews and trains and, ultimately, the total cost of the service.

Berk32 January 19, 2013 - 9:32 pm


2 more trains means they’re able to MORE service – thats a good thing

Mike January 28, 2013 - 2:29 pm

No. Two more trains NEEDED to provide the SAME amount of service. The new station with its dead-end layout required trains to enter and leave slower and INCREASED run-time from end to end over the old station.

Kind of makes me wonder if spending all that money on the new South Ferry station was worth it. And it makes me wonder if it’s worth it to spend even more money to rebuild the station. It will cost more to rebuild New South Ferry (estimated $600 million) than it did to build the station in the first place ($545 million). Might it be better to spend that money in other places in the subway system?

Benjamin Kabak January 28, 2013 - 2:30 pm

FWIW, they’re going to have spend most of this money anyway because they need to restore the Lower Manhattan signals for trains currently in operation.

Nathanael January 17, 2013 - 8:42 pm

The loop station is bluntly illegal due to lack of wheelchair access.

Nathanael January 17, 2013 - 8:47 pm

To make this clearer, reopening the loop station at this point would constitute opening a *new* station, and so it would have to be fully ADA-compliant.

Several systems have tried to get away with evading those rules and lost.

Bolwerk January 17, 2013 - 11:31 pm

Well, they could at least try to apply for a waiver, given the circumstances. Not that many wheelchair users use the subway anyway, because it’s impractical even with ADA access.

Nathanael January 19, 2013 - 4:32 pm

It’s impractical solely because of lack of ADA access. NYC has the worst wheelchair access of any urban rail system in the English-speaking world.

(I can’t make the statement more general because I don’t speak enough foreign languages to review the state of other systems, but on the whole NYC seems to be worse than most German systems too.)

The majority of subway systems, worldwide, are practical and very popular among wheelchair users.

If our federal government were sane, it would provide a large grant of several billion dollars to do *lots* of ADA station retrofits in NYC. Grants of substantial amounts of national government money are why London is well ahead of New York.

Someone January 19, 2013 - 8:25 pm

NYC has the worst wheelchair access of any urban rail system in the English-speaking world.

And Paris and London aren’t worse because…?

Bolwerk January 20, 2013 - 6:05 pm

…they have better disability systems, for one. Pretty sure transport costs are factored in, at least in France.

I think ADA just gets priorities wrong. Having all the able-bodied people on subways and the disabled in subsidized cars and, at least for local movement, surface transit speeds everyone up. Instead, we try to pay people to drive whether they should or not and force transit systems to spend billions on access for a very tiny percentage of the population.

(Not saying there is no place for disabled access to transit, either, but there should be a little more discrimination here – of the fiscal kind, not the socioeconomic status kind.)

Bolwerk January 20, 2013 - 5:55 pm

No, it’s (often) impossible because of lack of wheelchair accessibility. It’s impractical even with access. It requires a serpentine trip through long tunnels/passages and offensively slow elevators, and then often a long way along a platform to get to a wheelchair loading spot.

I don’t agree with spending billions to make ADA work on the NYC subway. At least in a few stations it might literally be impossible to make it work anyway. I want more bang:buck. Spend the billions on better surface transit,* and strategically spend resources on subway accessibility. Yes, German systems are certainly better. But Germany adopted these kinds of standards decades before the USA, at least in practice if not in law.

* Surface light rail with level boarding, to augment or replace the buses wheelchair users really depend on. Not for nothing, but it’s often what the Germans do, instead of NYC-style rapid transit, to keep construction costs down; whether they factor the disabled into that, I don’t know.

Someone January 17, 2013 - 9:28 pm

No, they reverse right after Rector Street. They don’t travel through the loop.

That point aside, I’d like to discuss why the loop station is closed in the first place.
1) The platform was too short.
2) You cannot open a non-ADA-accessible station anymore.
3) It is in walking distance to the J, N, R, Z, 4, and 5 trains anyways.

Someone January 17, 2013 - 9:28 pm

*With that point aside

Berk32 January 17, 2013 - 11:32 pm


“A temporary signal system was installed that allows trains to use the track area known as the Old South Ferry Loop after leaving Rector Street to turn around so that trains can travel back uptown.”

Yes, they’re using the loop to turn trains around. Using the crossover they installed during south ferry construction would jsut slow down service – since it only allows them to use 1 track to stop and reverse (assuming that crossover is still there)

And stations being within walking distance that for the most part do not provide alternate service to the uptown 1 line are not very helpful

Someone January 18, 2013 - 6:41 am

Oh, I thought the loop was exclusively used by the 5 train to turn around after Bowling Green. It’s been using both loop tracks to turn around since 2009.

Nathanael January 17, 2013 - 8:44 pm


I realize there will have to be some relays local to the station. But the main signal room needs to be moved, uphill, a lot. I’m not sure Chambers St. is far enough uphill, though it might be. If not, then all the way to 14th St.

Nathanael January 17, 2013 - 8:49 pm

Heck. This is an opportunity.

Resignal the line south of Chambers Street with a modern signal system. Yes, there has to be a signal handoff at Chambers Street. This is done in various parts of the London Underground; it’s possible.

Someone January 17, 2013 - 9:25 pm

Yes, there has to be a signal handoff at Chambers Street. This is done in various parts of the London Underground; it’s possible.

But not all at once. Some lines have a different signalling system than others, and each line only uses ONE type of signalling system.

Nathanael January 19, 2013 - 4:33 pm

Wrong. Several lines have, in recent years, used multiple signalling systems on different sections of the line, with transition points.

Nathanael January 19, 2013 - 4:37 pm

Look at the map of ATO (automatic train operation) on the Central Line, if you can find it. There’s a bit where it just stops and a different signal system takes over, for Ealing Broadway, where the Central Line overlaps with other lines.

The Picadilly Line has different signalling on the sections it shares with the Metropolitan and District lines than it does on the “main” section.

The sections where “mainline” trains share track with the Metropolitan and District lines require the mainline trains to handle multiple signalling systems.

Signal system handoff points DO cause a delay for every train that has to go through one, so it is important to place them very carefully. However, they are most certainly possible.

In fact, that’s going to be the only way to change the signal system on the B division of NYC Transit; there’s no way to do something that large all at once.

Someone January 19, 2013 - 8:36 pm

The Victoria, Jubilee, Waterloo-City, and Northern lines of the Underground, to my knowledge, only use one signal system: ATO.

The Central line does not share segments of track with any other line at Ealing Broadway, as seen here.

John-2 January 17, 2013 - 8:56 pm

The MTA could get an ADA waiver from the feds in about five seconds if they wanted to reopen the loop station — after all the bad publicity federal relief efforts got for their work on Staten Island, post-Sandy, they don’t need the public relations grief of telling many of those same people they can’t have the station back that was in operation for a century. As long as the station isn’t going to be reactivated for permanent operation, the feds will OK a waiver.

The next question, though, is does the MTA really want people to know that the 1 trains are using the old South Ferry station to loop back to Rector right now? Given the cost estimates and the time frame involved to fix new South Ferry, until they know the disaster repair money is in the bank, the MTA may not want a lot of people to realize there’s an alternative sitting 20 feet below the northwest corner of the new Staten Island Ferry terminal, since that could lead to calls to abandon the new station, rather than spend over half a billion dollars to fix a station that cost over half a billion dollars to build just four years ago.

Nathanael January 19, 2013 - 4:38 pm

“As long as the station isn’t going to be reactivated for permanent operation, the feds will OK a waiver.”

Quite likely. Given that reactivating the old station will probably cost several hundred million dollars (installation of gap fillers, cleaning of tiles, installation of electronics), is it worth it?

John-2 January 19, 2013 - 5:12 pm

As noted below, the longer the time-frame for repairing the station, the more you can justify a temporary fix for the upper station (also, I noted in this week’s stories this is the first time the articles have really started mentioning the old station. The long its takes the more the MTA is going to have to explain why it can’t reopen the station, which out of all the system’s 450-plus stations was among the Top 10 percent in boardings according to the agency’s most recent figures).

Nathanael January 19, 2013 - 4:39 pm

“since that could lead to calls to abandon the new station,”

And those calls would lead to the Feds shutting down the old station for ADA noncompliance, because it would make it clear that the old station wasn’t “temporary”.

Sigh. See how this works?

CR January 18, 2013 - 12:14 am

The Old South Ferry Loop is being used to loop 1 trains. I’m a conductor on the 1 line. The old loop is in just as bad shape as the New station. The motors that operate the gap fillers were used for the gap fillers on the Lexington ave lines 14st Union Square station.

John-2 January 18, 2013 - 1:52 am

…but it is functional enough to loop the 1 train, and the 5 trains that terminate at Bowling Green, via the inner loop. That’s more than you can say for the lower South Ferry station right now.

I would guess that while the SF moving platform parts have been cannibalized for the Union Square platforms, the MTA can find or fabricate more (unless they plan to close Union Square sometime in the future when the SF parts wear out). That would take time, and the old stairs would also have to be reconditioned, turnstiles and MVMs restored and the station platform and walls hosed down and cleaned up a bunch to make it usable again.

Then the question is how long does lower SF have to be out of commission to justify spending the $$$ to reactivate upper SF? Ben quotes Habersham above as estimating at least a year to fix the lower platform. Depending on what the cost/time/labor would be, a down-and-dirty rehab of upper South Ferry might or might not be worth the effort if the lower station will be ready in 2014. But 2015? 2016? 2017? The longer the repair period estimate is, the more it makes sense to spend the money, get the ADA waiver from the feds and reopen the upper loop.

Nathanael January 19, 2013 - 4:41 pm

Since there is no procedure for getting an ADA waiver, and no provision for waivers in the ADA, trying to get one is actually a lot more iffy than it looks.

The Feds would probably require that the new station be fully funded and contracts for restoration let out prior to allowing a waiver for the old station. At least, I would if I were at the FTA. Does this really make any sense to do?

CR January 18, 2013 - 3:45 am

My guess is that the MTA wants to make sure they have the Fema money secured for the repairs of the New South Ferry station and not get stuck with the bill.

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Eric F January 18, 2013 - 9:10 am

If this thing is closed for three years anyway, why not close the line up past Ground Zero and allow for a little more construction flexibility with a view to getting Cortland restored quicker and Ground Zero rebuilt faster? Does anyone know if that has been discussed? The red line should have been deactivated down there anyway, but it was kept open really for political reasons.

capt subway January 18, 2013 - 9:47 am

To do that would make a total mess of service, such as was the case after 9/11, with service being reduced by fully 1/3. All three services, the 1, 2 & 3, cannot run into Bklyn. So, if you remember, the #3 ran from 148 to 14 St only and the #1 & #2 ran all local on 7th Ave and then out to Bklyn, the #1 to New Lots and the #2 to Flat. It was totally inadequate and awful service. I know becauseI I, and some of my colleagues, stayed nights & weekends in the wake of 9/11 to write the timetables. That was the best we could do given the track layouts and track capacities.

BTW the loop tracks at SF have stayed in service all along. Now the trains simply simply dump their passengers at Rector and run “light” through the old SF station.

Eric F January 18, 2013 - 10:36 am

Thanks, at least there’s a rationale. I guess that’s why no one has floated the idea.

Someone January 18, 2013 - 10:53 am

Cortlandt Street (and the World Trade Center) is going to open by late 2013 or early 2014, anyways. There is no need to close the 1 south of Chambers if you could already extend it to past Rector Street.

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Alek January 18, 2013 - 11:52 am

I think the MTA is focusing on the A line more than south ferry station. This case the loss of 1 station over a vital line for rockaways. When the A goes back to normal then the workers shift to the 1 line

Someone January 18, 2013 - 1:48 pm

That’s because the A train has 4 closed stations and 6 other stations served by a shuttle, with no neighbouring stations. The South Ferry station is a single station, which has 3 other subway stations (Whitehall St, Broad St, and Bowling Green) in its vicinity.

Rob Stevens January 18, 2013 - 4:26 pm

So the new S Fy “allowed Transit to run 24 trains per hour on the West Side IRT”.

I have a problem with the MTA’s dumbing down of service and revisionist history. As I also have a copy of the TA’s 10/19/65 schedule showing 30 trns/hr for the 1, BEFORE the station was ‘improved’ to allow 24.

Someone January 18, 2013 - 4:49 pm

The loop might have had been able to accomodate 30 tph spread across both loops, which means that each line (1, 5) might only have 15 tph each.

Benjamin Kabak January 18, 2013 - 4:54 pm

I’m also thinking short train sets, no?

Someone January 18, 2013 - 5:27 pm

Yep, and also the fact that door-holding was much less common in that time.

capt subway January 19, 2013 - 12:47 am

Disallowing “keying-by” red automatic signals around 1970 after a rash of rear end collisions, said “keying-by” allowing trains to creep past a red automatic and up onto the tails of their leaders, cut down on peak TPH (trains per hour) on every single line in the system. To wit and as a few examples: #7 went from around 34 peak TPH to 28, Lex express tracks from 33 to around 27, etc. With each new safety precaution: not entering a station until your leader has completely left it, conductors not closing doors until the leaving automatic has changed from red to yellow, etc, etc, TPH continues to be whittled down. The NY Subway, once a “Can Do” outfit, has now become a “No Can Do” operation.

Someone January 19, 2013 - 8:38 am

While that may be true, the MTA believes that the installation of CBTC in the system would increase the rate of tph. For instance, the L train went from 15 tph to 26 tph after the installation of CBTC, and the 7 currently has around 24 tph. With CBTC, the 7 will most likely get close to 30 tph. But you’re right, it is quite a service decrease.

Someone January 18, 2013 - 8:02 pm

Some estimates say that it could take as long as 3 years to restore the station.

Nathanael January 19, 2013 - 4:43 pm


Restoring the station is a pretty off-the-shelf project.

Restoring the signal room is a *mistake*, given its location.

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